Expedition Headwaters Journal Entries

Expedition Headwaters: Getting Ready

Doug Alderson
Twenty-five years ago, I was assigned by a magazine to write about the Kissimmee River. Conservationists were bemoaning the channelization of the river and were calling for its restoration. Waterfowl and other wildlife had declined drastically and water was no longer being filtered by a slow meandering river channel through thousands of acres of marshlands. As a result, Lake Okeechobee was receiving too much water too quickly during the rainy season, and the quality was severely degraded...more

Day 1 - Friday, March 23rd

Bob Mindick
Certain dates and years tend to remind us of pivotal events in history: 1492, 1861, December 7, 1941, 1969 and September 11. Today, March 23, 2007, became one of those dates added to my memory bank as we traveled by kayak along Shingle Creek and near the City of Kissimmee. It is the first time a group of boaters have been permitted to travel from Kissimmee to Lake Okeechobee in last fifteen years or more. Long before even that, there was an annual event called the Boat-A-Cade that would take off from the northern shore of Lake Toho and head to the shores of the “Big O” some 130 miles away. Over 300 boats strong, they traveled down one of the great waterways of America. Today we begin to recreate that historic journey and observe the changes that have occurred since the last adventure. It is both an honor and a privilege to renew this Central Florida tradition. Let the adventure begin.

Doug Alderson
What a sendoff we had! There were dignitaries, film crews, and a school group bearing gifts, a hovering helicopter and plenty of well wishers to send us on our merry way. We embarked from the Rosen Shingle Creek on the narrow Shingle Creek, the beginning of the Everglades, led by Harris Rosen and his paddling partner Jena Brooks of Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Office of Greenways and Trails. They joined us for the first four miles of the 12-day expedition...more

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Day 2 - Saturday, March 24th

Doug Alderson
Makinson Island does not sleep. Pig frogs, screech owls, grunting wild pigs, scrounging raccoons, sheep—yes, there’s sheep on the island—plus a surprising number of birds, all come alive when the sun goes down. Then, at 6:30 am, the bass boats started up for a tournament, racing to their secret fishing spots. Songbirds, ducks, sandhill cranes and numerous wading birds soon awakened, and so it was time to arise from the tent and begin our adventure for Day Two...more

Bob Mindick
Makinson Island should be called Ol’ MacDonald's Island. The tranquil, palm studded island of the daytime transforms into a seemingly endless chorus of sounds right out of the children’s song, "Ol' MacDonald had a farm...".

It started at 9pm with the haunting shriek of the limpkin that sent a shiver down the spines of those unfamiliar with this wetland fowl....more

Mike Jones
A lot of wind, a lot of water. I’m wet.

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Day 3 - Sunday, March 25th

Beth Kelso
Warm sun rising in the cool morning light, zippers zipping all through the night.

The day has started, much to learn, time to get those paddles to churn.

Bald eagles standing sentinel, omen to a splendid day, Dwayne, the S-61 lock tender, helped us on our way....more

Doug Alderson
Four bald eagles greeted us as we exited Southport—three adults and one juvenile. They hovered, circled and one posed for us on a small cypress. We entered our first lock of the trip - the S-61, and were lowered about four feet, then exited out into the C-35 Canal, or Toho Canal as many locals call it. As canals go, it was pastoral. That’s because it was first dredged more than a century ago by Hamilton Diston and many of the shoreline cypresses and live oaks have reached impressive sizes. Plus, the bald eagles, snail kites and alligators were plentiful. At canal’s end, we spotted our first roseate spoonbill, crested caracara and swallowtail kite....more

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Day 4 - Monday, March 26th

Doug Alderson
We surfed across Cypress Lake with a strong tailwind; the east wind has been unceasing except at night. Four of us decided to investigate the old channel connection to Lake Hatchineha instead of Canal C-36. So, after more than one try, we found the nearly invisible opening to the Dead River and paddled a couple of miles through a cow pasture, dodging horses in the creek and a large airboat. At our lunch stop, an airboat tour boat stopped and the operator chatted with us. “You gotta be careful with that blue canoe,” he said to Beth, nodding to her kayak, “It’s gator mating season, and they’ll think that’s a female gator!” ...more

Beth Kelso
Boy, Doug, leave something for the rest of us to say!

No, really, today was another beautiful day in kayaking paradise. My favorite part was heading up the Dead River and coming upon these two adorable mid-sized horses munching on Hydrilla right in the center of the river. Even though the river is only about 12 feet wide, they let me glide by just mere feet away and almost felt I could reach out and touch them...more

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Day 5 - Tuesday, March 27th

Doug Alderson
On the evening of the fourth night at Mack Landing, after my last blog, local resident Jerry C. Renney serenaded us with song. Jerry was an early activist with the Kissimmee River Sportsman’s Association, fighting for public access to area waters and trying to clean up and restore the river system. His songs are passionate, nostalgic and heart warming, sometimes about “when Florida could make you feel small.” It still does make visitors feel small in places, especially parts of the Kissimmee valley. Many of the sovereign rights conflicts of the 1980’s were resolved when the South Florida Water Management District simply bought the land or acquired easements instead of fighting the battles in lengthy and expensive court battles. Jerry concluded, “What’s happened here in my home, the Kissimmee River valley, has made it a whole lot better than it used to be.” ...more

Beth Kelso
After setting up camp at the end of the day, I went on a little tour of the area. I returned to loud shouts and serious laughter. As I came into view everyone started telling me at once that a dog had walked up to my water sandals sitting beside my tent and started to raise his leg to relieve himself. At that point, everybody started yelling and gesticulating and the freaked out dog ran for his life. The moral of the story is that it is time to wash my water sandals!

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Day 6 - Wednesday, March 28th

Doug Alderson
Cary Lightsey, one of Brahma Island’s owners, and several of his crew gave us tours of the island and waters via airboat and vehicles. Cary is a sixth generation cattle rancher in the area and he and his family sold much of their development rights so future generations of Lightseys can maintain the family business and not sell the land for housing. He described how he observed the lake change when the Kissimmee River was channelized and the locks and dams were put in. “The shoreline and lake bottom used to be very sandy and open,” he said, “but then it began to silt up, and the cattails and maidencane and other plants came in, and when they decomposed, they contributed to the siltation.” He fully supports the restoration efforts...more

Julia Recker
It’s finally here - the day I rejoin the group here at Shady Oaks! I was very envious of the group’s last night camping location on Brahma Island. Camping indeed! It sounds like it was well deserved based on the hard day on the trail and on the water. This location is absolutely gorgeous….how can you compare a beautiful spring Florida evening looking out over beautiful Lake Kissimmee. We set up camp in the Oak Hammock, Eagles flying overhead and Osprey crying over the lake. It’s our first night of really primitive camping. Tomorrow is going to be one of the first long days for both hikers and kayakers. It’s a great time to join the adventure.

Bob Mindick
The last couple of days have been some of the best wildlife viewing I have ever experienced in North America. What is most wonderful about that fact is that is right here in our own back yard. I have seen more types of listed species of animals, (those that are classified as either endangered, threatened or of special concern); in one small connected chain of lakes along the Kissimmee Valley than in most countries I have visited around the world. We have seen bald eagles by the dozens, roseate spoonbill, Sherman’s fox squirrel, snail kite and alligator to name just a few.

I have come to realize how truly blessed we are in Central Florida and what a wonderful resource we have in our wildlife and natural resources to share with the millions of tourists who visit our region each year.

Beth Kelso
After Cary Lightsey told us about the history of Paradise Island a.k.a. Brahma Island, we went for an air boat ride, then enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of catfish, cole slaw & tomato syrup. And may I say, the tomato syrup was AWESOME, I even asked the cooks for a recipe. Then, we took a tour of the island. But the fun thing was when we loaded up in the truck that had cages for the hunting dogs in the center of the back bed, so we all of us piled in on the edges. About half way through, someone said, “Be careful, the dog is peeing.” I didn’t pay much attention as I was enjoying the beautiful scenery. But then I looked down and the dog had actually peed through the screen of the cage right onto the back of my right leg. H-m-m, I think I’m starting to see a wet theme.

That night we enjoyed playing some pool at the hunt camp. Bob and I were playing and I was shooting the final eight ball but missed it and it landed right next to the corner pocket. Bob had an easy shot on his last ball and then the eight. But we were so exuberant that we leaped up and did a high five and then the vibrations dropped the eight ball in and I won. The moral of this story is to walk softly and wait till the fat lady sings. Mike and Doug read Robert Service to me until I fell into a blissful sleep.

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Day 7 - Thursday, March 29th

Doug Alderson
Lake Kissimmee bid farewell to the three kayaking members of the team with a glassy calm, contrasting with the previous six days. We passed through the S-65 Lock and entered the C-38 Canal, otherwise known as the Kissimmee River. The former river channel consists of shallow, weed-choked oxbows in most places, while the canal is arrow-straight. Vegetation lines the shores, however, having had more than 35 years to take hold. Numerous alligators slid into the water, some from reed nests. Fishermen in boats continued their good luck and we spotted our first kingfishers....more

Julia Recker
Sitting here at KICCO, our day seven campsite and reflecting back on my first full day with the Expedition. I can only be amazed at the group effort and camaraderie! As a new kayaker to the group, I was concerned I might really lag behind and slow my paddle mates up as my kayak is a little Pungo, shorter and slower than the others. The wind was kind and paddling in the channeled river provided a bit of a reprieve from the blustery and unrelenting lake winds of previous days....more

Bob Mindick
Finally flat water on my last day of kayaking. It was a rather leisurely paddle down the Kissimmee River compared to the past several days on the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes and the ever present head winds that confronted the aquatic oriented adventurers in our group. As Julia Recker, Doug Alderson and I made our way down the rather mundane scenery and straightened channel that once was a serpentine band of life-giving water, wildlife and nourishment headed down to the Everglades, we reflected on the Kissimmee River of old....more

Doug Hattaway
Well, I am lucky to join the group today, my first day, taking Dale Allen’s place. I hiked today. I was apprehensive at first of taking the time away from family and work, but now that I am here, it is worth it (not that I do not miss my family). Today we saw a little road walking, but most of the day was off road. Much was through pastureland along the River, which is channeled where we were, but good stretches were through some beautiful country filled with great oak hammocks, scrub habitat and an occasional palm hammock....more

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Day 8 - Friday, March 30th

Beth Kelso
Today I struck out on my own at 7 a.m. Soon I was greeted by a hawk in a clearing. We chatted for a few minutes and he was on his way. Over the next hour, three sets of deer came by to check on me and to share the joy of this magical place. I must stop a moment and thank those that set the trail from Camp Island Campsite and the Avon Park Range. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a section of trail so much! Not just because of all of the wild life sightings, but because the location of the trail was superb. We rambled from scrub brush, under the weeping care of the old oaks and finally to views out into the open tundra. And the blazes were perfect. I even enjoyed one sharp curve that opened into two possibilities...more

Doug Alderson
Disaster struck this morning. ’Flesh-eating’ red ants invaded my kayak during the night. By morning, it was a complete infestation. Flooding the cockpit was only partially effective. I flicked off ants for most of the morning.

Julia and I wound down part of the old river channel, with bream popping everywhere, before entering the canal again. A strong tailwind was very welcome. At our lunch spot at the Fort Kissimmee Historic site,...more

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Day 9 - Saturday, March 31st

Julia Recker
Our remote campsite at Bluff Hammock last night was pretty primitive … but I slept the best out of the entire trip. I was anxious about Mike and Doug; we had traded out at noon a kayaker for a hiker -- now commonly known as ‘Hiyaking.’ That is when you can accomplish both activities in a fairly competent manner and that is certainly questionable! Doug and I started our day with a hike of about ¾ of a mile to our kayaks at the bridge, seeing wild hogs on the way....more

Doug Hattaway (aka ‘New Doug’)
Well, day three for me (day nine for the rest) was challenging and I was fatigued. I may be getting sick and hope tonight’s liquid medicine will help. Today was sunny, dry, clear and not too hot with a strong breeze. The first part of the hiking day was spent getting good video for the planned documentary....more

Doug Alderson (a.k.a. ‘Original Doug’)
It was a river through a prairie, the restored 15-mile segment of the Kissimmee River. This was the Kissimmee River I remembered when I canoed part of the original channel in 1981 -- a wide grassy floodplain one to two miles wide. Vast. Windswept. “It feels like we’re in Kansas or Nebraska,” Julia observed....more

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Day 10 - Sunday, April 1st

Beth Kelso
Today is April Fools day and we couldn’t help but have some fun. At the end of the day, Doug Alderson called our fearless leader, Matt Klein, at home and then acted upset but then hung up as if the cell phone disconnected. We knew our ever on-top-of-things- leader would be in a mild panic worried about what was wrong. After letting Matt stew a bit, we had Victoria Johnson from the film crew call him back all stressed out that the hikers were upset and mutinying....more

Doug Alderson
After nine straight days of paddling, I traded my kayak paddle for hiking shoes. Beth and Julia paddled the C-38 Canal against a stiff headwind, while I joined Ian, Mike and New Doug on the Florida Trail. Ian Brown, a Florida Trail member, has been with us since the first day. We wound through parched cattle country, dipping in and out of live oak groves. Then, we walked along a highway for six miles. It was windy and hot with the only shade being from an occasional palm tree. I yearned for the cool waters of the Kissimmee River, headwind or otherwise. Once at camp, after 15 miles of walking, I had sore feet, legs and hips to go along with my sore arms, shoulders and back. I plan to paddle the remainder of the trip, but at least I am an official “hiyaker.”

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Day 11 - Monday, April 2nd

Beth Kelso
After the longer mileage, this shortened day of ten miles seemed like a cake walk. We had the time to enjoy the beautiful morning before breaking camp and were able to take more rest breaks along the way to just sit and enjoy the view. As an added bonus, this last night we get to enjoy hot showers and a massage. Did I say MASSAGE? YES!!!...more

Doug Alderson
Steve, the lock tender at Lock 65-D for the past two years, said we were the first non-motorized watercraft to pass through the lock. Living in a nearby house overlooking the river, Steve loves being a lock tender so much that he says he’ll never leave “until they throw my ashes off the lock.” A new floodgate is being added to the lock to handle excess water from the upriver restoration....more

Mike Jones
You haven’t heard from me before, I am the “civilian” on this expedition. As such, I have been truly blessed. I have a crew of most knowledgeable and able guides. Not only are these folk’s seasoned hikers and paddlers, but they have a wealth of knowledge of the wilderness and history of Florida. They have answered numerous questions about flowers, plants, trees and a bird population that is awe inspiring....more

Ian Brown
So, my second and last blog. Today’s hike was brief (ten miles) and mostly on road, so I found my rhythm and pressed to the day’s end at my top speed only to realize I went too far. Hey, going back allowed me to see a caracara. The only reprieve today was a swimming hole with the classic rope-tied-to-branch set-up. It always seems higher when you are in the tree looking down and then the water was too shallow –ouch my ankle. Yesterday and today I saw an otter, alligators, a tortoise and many varieties of birds. I have enjoyed meeting and acquainting with new people – people who care about what we are doing. Let this not be forgotten and let’s make a difference in what we do by seeing beyond the simple decision of what costs less today and see how we can live a more sustainable life now for the future our people. Conserve water, waste less, and consume less.

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Day 12 - Tuesday, April 3rd

Doug Alderson
While four hikers embarked for Lake Okeechobee, Julia and I passed through our last lock—65-E—which was another slow downward water elevator, this one taking us to roughly the same level as Lake Okeechobee. As I watched the big yellow and black floodgates slowly open, releasing the system’s lifeblood, I was reminded how the restoration of the middle segment of the Kissimmee River was a compromise. The system is still closely controlled and managed for flood control. But when events such as hurricanes occur, even the numerous flood control structures along the system cannot hold back the huge tide of fresh water and much is dumped through canals and rivers to the Gulf or the Atlantic. Part of the Everglades restoration plan is to capture some of this excess water and make it available for low water periods....more

 

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A foggy Kissimmee River view

Last reviewed: November 09, 2007